Copyright (c) 2009 Karen Friedman
Have you ever spoken to a group of people, only to get a blank stare? Remember…the one where the person in the front row fell asleep? Is it your subject? Or is it you? Whether presenting one-on-one or to a group, many speakers drone on and on, unaware that people are tuning them out. Their audiences blame style, delivery and organization. While these criticisms may be valid, it takes far more to keep your audience’s attention in today’s fast paced world and executives are realizing that expert knowledge is no longer enough—they need to hone their speaking skills to succeed.
I work with a lot of terrific people who are exceptional at what they do. But in order for them to take their careers to the next level, senior management needs to see them as leaders who can command attention and respect. That’s what a top pharmaceutical executive recently told me before I coached key members of his team. When delivering presentations, he said it is essential for them to be able to hit it out of the ballpark if they hope to take their careers to the next level. The executive says a person’a ability to present key information clearly and concisely is critical to their credibility, and the respect they earn both internally and externally.
Yet, even top tier managers will privately admit they are not sure how to deliver more effective data packed presentations that contain fewer slides and more personality. They acknowledge that their PowerPoint driven presentations are too long, lack organization, substance, style and sometimes fail to provide perspective, context or direction.
Sheepishly and slightly embarrassed, they divulge that this is the way it’s always been done and say they’re afraid to leave out important information or personalize their presentations for fear of not being taken seriously.
While most communications coaches, including this one, will teach you to craft strong opens and closes, organize material, develop powerful messages, improve delivery and body language, you will be hard pressed to connect with higher ups if you do not learn how to appeal to their emotions. While your subject matter may be complicated and technical, you must put the content in context to make it relevant to the listener. By combining facts with emotional appeal, you will have a better chance of influencing perceptions and communicating your way to the top.
GET OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY
You know your business which is why you are speaking. So, stop trying to jam ten pounds of information into a two pound bag just to prove you know your stuff. Figure out how the facts and information bring relevance and value to your audience. If you’re talking technology, how will the technology save them time and money? If you?re presenting promising clinical data, how will the information eventually help a patient? Fewer injections? Lower doses? Reduced side effects? How will your work today improve someone’s quality of life in the future? Step out of your shoes and into theirs to address audience concerns.
DROWNING IN DATA
People remember impressions, not drifts of data. They remember how you made them feel. When we see stories about the December?s tsunamis, we don?t remember all of the facts. But, we’ll never forget the stories, the images and how we felt when we saw almost indescribable pictures of death and devastation. Make your facts and figures stronger by supporting them with real evidence such as powerful numbers, examples, anecdotes and visual images that leave a lasting impression.
STUMP THE CHUMP
It is almost inevitable that management will interrupt your presentation to ask a question. As distressing as this can be, they are not trying to stump you. Think of the question as an opportunity to address their concerns and use it as a stepping stone to repeat and reinforce key points or deliver additional information. It?s helpful to anticipate questions and prepare answers in advance.
REMEMBER THE THREE C’s
Obtaining the financing you need to grow your business might require delivering a financial presentation to investors before you can ask them for money. Delivering information and presenting the numbers is not enough. You must be Clear, Concise and Credible. You must quickly articulate what your business will provide, how the company will make money, what you are doing to address problems, anticipated hurdles and how your strategy will drive future profits.
NO ONE CAME TO SEE A SLIDE SHOW
Today’s business presenters often equate preparation to preparing a slide presentation. Visuals should reinforce what you say, not serve as your script. Don’t read the slide! Audiences are looking to you to make sense of information. Prepare your presentation first. Then develop visuals that support your key messages. Additionally, write in bullets or phrases to help you talk more and read less so you are free to look at people and engage them.
Senior executives are a bit like television reporters. They want you to get to the point quickly. When they ask a question, they want the facts, not long winded answers. If they interrupt you in the middle of a slide to ask a question, they want you to answer the question and then move on instead of answering the question and repeating all of the information on the slide. Often, presenters over answer management questions to buy time, fill the silence or because they think a brief response is too simplistic. Less is more still holds true. Long answers frequently dilute messages, lack examples and open the door for unwanted questions.
DON’T DULL IT DOWN
I once worked with a pharmaceutical company that had a terrific opportunity to excite a New York Times reporter about a promising medication. Instead of offering compelling case histories and sharing impressive results, the doctors bored the reporter with endless diagrams and medical flow charts that meant nothing to his audience. He never wrote the story. Step away from your expertise to put the information in perspective. Instead of tackling tactics and strategies first, start by presenting the significance of the problem so they understand why the solution is so important. For example:For nearly 20 million people who suffer from depression each year, the holiday season can be an especially difficult time, resulting in time away from work, strained personal relationships and an inability to complete every day task.
VOICE VISION WITH VOLUME When you speak, you’re on! Even if it’s a small meeting, you want to project so your voice is strong and authoritative. We’ve worked with many people who are soft spoken and others who start out strong, but trail off at the end of a sentence. We advise visualizing a person in the back of the room straining to hear you. Speak to that person in an effort to better project. And, whenever possible, stand up to maximize the richness of your voice.
If you stop and think about it, you can probably recall a couple of memorable business presentations. What is it you remember? What did they have in common? Chances are these presenters were personable and energetic. They were able to quickly cut to the chase and repeatedly reinforce their key points. And, while they likely rehearsed their well thought out, organized, pre-planned and prepared remarks over and over again, they probably made you feel as if they were simply speaking off the cuff for your benefit.